Dear Penn State Community:
One year ago on Memorial Day, our nation watched in horror as George Floyd was killed on the streets of Minneapolis by the now former police officer Derek Chauvin. Today, he was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter by a jury after about 10 hours of deliberations.
A jury found him guilty, yet this delivery of justice by our legal system does not mitigate the trauma, frustration and anger that members of our community are feeling over the death of George Floyd. It is palpable and profound and nothing can mitigate the fact that another innocent life was taken. We grieve because George Floyd was taken from his family and his community because of the wanton and unjustifiable abuse of power. We grieve because racism, inequality, and brutality in America persist.
The fact that so many Black Americans have died as George Floyd did is a heartbreaking reality that cannot be ignored. We must not accept these acts of injustice. The long history of mistreatment of Black and other communities of color and the persistent structural issues they encounter must change. It is our collective responsibility to take this moment and amplify it. As an institution of higher education, Penn State is in a unique position to teach this generation and future generations about the history of racism, how it pervades society in small and large ways, and how each of us may be contributing to — either knowingly or unknowingly — the inequality that fuels hate and disrespect of other human beings.
As individuals and as an institution, we must face, comprehend and share the history of American racism so that we can help to create a different future. Structural racism impacts and shapes our lives on a daily basis, whether we are willing to admit it or not. There will be some individuals who deny this assertion, but history — and the present — indicate otherwise.
As a University, we take seriously our obligation to fight injustice and inequity. I have initiated a number of presidential initiatives to advance these priorities. We are making progress, but I will not rest, nor will my leadership team, in our efforts to achieve significant and tangible progress.
As leaders of Penn State, it is our responsibility to help our community understand and process recent events and outcomes, along with other examples of the brutality of racism and repeated violations of human rights. As Angela Davis, and others, have said, “It is not enough to be non-racist. Each of us must work to be anti-racist.” Anti-racism involves actively identifying and eliminating racism through change of systems, organizational structures, policies and attitudes. This work must never end.
It is clear in our mission as a land-grant university that we are duty-bound and driven to use our influence, collective knowledge and abilities to address broad societal problems — especially those that cause such trauma, pain and abuse of power. We ask that each of you reading this join us in our ongoing fight for equity and social justice, and help stop the violence against people of color. Black and all people of color in this country need our commitment and allyship to battle these injustices and our resolve to disrupt the trauma, stress and pain they carry.
If you or anyone else you know needs support or resources for dealing with these issues, please refer to the resources listed online here.
Eric Barron, president